Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures: Harnessing a Pan-Canadian approach to biodiversity conservation

Canada’s conservation journey is a major, collaborative effort that has mobilized partners from all levels of government, Indigenous Peoples from across the country, environmental non-government organizations of all sizes and areas of expertise, as well as philanthropic and for-profit organizations from a range of sectors and individuals from many diverse backgrounds.

Other Effective area-based Conservation Measures (OECMs), have become a Pan-Canadian tool for conservation, created through a collaboration between federal, provincial, territorial, municipal jurisdictions and Indigenous Peoples.

Long description

A map of Canada with 180 green dots representing the locations of OECMs across the country, with high concentrations in Northwest Territories, Saskatchewan and Prince Edward Island

OECMs are a strong and meaningful conservation mechanism that recognize the efforts of landowners and land managers, for managing the land for a particular purpose, while also achieving biodiversity conservation outcomes equal to those of a protected area. These important areas help to create a rich and diverse conservation network that is well connected and representative of Canada’s varied landscapes.

OECMs have been around for a while, but they have really risen to the forefront of conservation conversations in Canada in recent years, and for good reason.  They represent an exciting intersection between people, economics and nature—managing the land for a particular purpose, and in ways that also allow ecosystems to remain in place and work as they should. It’s the best of all three worlds!  

OECM recognition can increase the number of hectares contributing to Canada’s conservation goals, while also helping to provide a holistic picture of the complete network of areas that achieve the conservation of biodiversity. With this full-picture view of conservation in Canada, they also have the potential to help identify and fill gaps in the network, further encouraging biodiversity to thrive in a variety of landscapes across the country.

“Canada has shown enormous support and ambition toward the achievement of the global targets on biodiversity,” said Jennifer Kelleher, the global lead for OECMs based in the Protected and Conserved Areas Team, at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Headquarters in Switzerland. “Moreover, Canada is rooting these ambitions in principles of reconciliation, respect, inclusiveness and collaboration, among other things. Canada has also developed specialized conservation tools to implement these approaches.  This effort has made Canada a global leader in advancing OECMs and we look forward to continuing to work with and learn from our friends and colleagues in Canada.”  

Canada is vast and varied. That’s why the Government of Canada has pursued a Pan-Canadian approach for OECMs and is endorsing this tool that supports strong conservation outcomes while also being flexible and adaptable to the realities of different landscapes and partnerships. OECMs meet the same biodiversity outcomes as more traditional protected areas, and can be customized to the varying Canadian contexts in ways that align with local values, governance and traditional knowledge systems. They’re about recognizing biodiversity action, while piecing together a holistic picture of Canadian conservation.

“Expanding focus to areas that offer meaningful conservation benefit, but have yet to be recognized, can enhance connectivity for wildlife and help reverse biodiversity loss,” said Dawn Carr, Director of strategic conservation with Nature Conservancy of Canada. “The Nature Conservancy of Canada is a trusted delivery partner and is ready to work with governments, local communities, Indigenous organizations and private landowners to help include additional areas that protect and conserve biodiversity and support their effective and long-term conservation. We need to work together as it requires a whole-of-society approach to address the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change.”

Once an area is recognized as an OECM, it is entered into Canada’s Protected and Conserved Areas Database, which means those hectares officially contribute to Canada’s conservation goals. As such, OECMs have the potential to make a significant contribution to the goal of protecting 25 percent of lands and inland waters in Canada by 2025, working toward 30 percent of each by 2030.

“There are already more than 180 land-based OECMs across the country, and they are as interesting and diverse as the people who live here and the landscapes that shape our country,” said Olaf Jensen, Director, Protected Areas Program with Environment and Climate Change Canada. “They can highlight the conservation actions of natural resource departments, law enforcement agencies, the military, forestry companies, ranchers, and non-governmental organizations, to name a few. And, we continue to work with a variety of partners to recognize more—the network of Canadian OECMs is growing every day.”

By working together with a wide range of partners to recognize more OECMs, the connection between conservation and sustainable economic development will continue to come into sharper focus. The two concepts can—and must—co-exist as we work together to address biodiversity loss and climate change.  As OECMs continue to provide a clearer picture of the full Canadian conservation network, it will help to inform biodiversity priorities, support sustainable economies and inspire people to interact with nature across the country.

Together, we are making a difference!

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